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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                     83

He was roused by a young, resonant, booming bass
voice. He would have picked that voice out from any
chorus. The only man in the Fighter Wing with a voice
like that was Squadron Commander Andrei Degtyarenko.

Alexei opened his eyes, but he thought he was still
asleep and that it was in a dream that he saw the
broad, high-cheeked, rough-hewn, good-natured face of
his friend, with the livid scar on his forehead, light-
coloured eyes and equally light and colourless "pig's
eyelashes", as Andrei's enemies called them. A pair of
light-blue eyes peered inquiringly, through the smoky

"Now, Grandpa, show me your trophy," boomed
Degtyarenko with a marked Ukrainian accent.

The vision did not melt away. It really was Degtya-
renko, although it seemed absolutely incredible that his
friend should be here, in the underground village in the
depths of the forest. He was standing there, tall, broad-
shouldered, with his tunic collar unbuttoned as usual.
He was holding his helmet with the wires of his radio-
phone dangling from it, and also some packets and
parcels. The rushlight was burning behind him, and
his golden, close-cropped, bristling hair shone like a

From behind Degtyarenko peeped the pale, weary face
of Grandad Mikhail, his eyes bulging with excitement;
and next to him stood a hospital nurse; it was snub-nosed,
impudent Lenochka, peering through the gloom with live
curiosity. She held a canvas Red Cross satchel under her
arm and pressed some strange-looking flowers to her

Everybody stood silent. Degtyarenko looked around
in perplexity, evidently blinded by the gloom. Once or
twice his eyes passed indifferently over Alexei's face;
nor could Alexei accustom himself to the idea that his
friend should suddenly appear in this place, and he
trembled lest all this should turn out to be a feverish

"Good Lord, can't you see him? Here he is," whispered
Varya, pulling the sheepskin from Meresyev.

Again Degtyarenko cast a bewildered look at Alexei's